The nonchalantdad: The Birth of Free Will.

Like many parents in the world, my wife and I encourage freedom – we encourage decision making in our children. It is natural to want your children to eventually think for themselves. And, usually, without fail they harmlessly rise to the occasion. Not all occasions go so smoothly, of course. I’m thinking of when my little girl decides that she does not wish to finish wiping her bottom and bolts across the room with me chasing after her. Or, there is the decision by both children to pay a nightly visit at about 3am to Mom and Dad’s bed, where they promptly position themselves so that Mom and Dad are left hanging off the edges. But, usually they can make some surprising and enlightened decisions for themselves.

I recall how entertaining it was the first time my son had to decide on his own whether to eat an apple or pear – when I asked him which he preferred he looked as though I had given him some kind of mathematical equation. An equation that he might have to refer to NASA experts, or in his case, that blue-dog-master-Sensei-thing on the Power Rangers. He chose the pear.

As with the apple and pear situation, my son was soon graduating into larger and more important decisions. One morning, early on, I gave him the choice of what articles of clothing he would like to wear to school. We were teaching him that he needed to begin dressing himself. After all, each morning was a battle of wills anyway between the ensemble I would lay out for him and what he might want to wear. A camouflage bathing suit is not very suitable for winter wear – even if accompanied by a t-shirt. As you know, the beginning is usually the roughest stage. He'd soon learn.

Eventually, by the age of four, he was dressing himself. Technically speaking, he was dressing himself. The rest is open to debate. He dressed himself efficiently and with proper consideration for practicality. His underpant was underneath his trousers, both his socks were carefully placed on each foot, and his shirt was in the correct position, teeth brushed, hair combed, etc. But, there was one morning when he obviously decided he was going to try something different. In the morning of hustle and bustle routines, he presented himself, without the slightest bit of self-conciousness, in the hallway to our bedroom. At 8:30 am the sight was more jolting than a strong coffee.

He was dressed from head to toe in the most spectacular arrangement of colours I have ever seen, with the exception of an earlier experience with Grateful Dead enthusiasts. The kid looked like Pippi Longstocking whacked out on LSD. In addition to this festive display of free will, he thought it prudent to add a badge pinned to his shirt declaring that he was a member of our local police force’s junior battalion. If only our local police force had such aesthetic imagination, I thought. As well, attached to his striped trousers near the front, which rose just high enough to reveal bright yellow socks underneath, was a replica model of the light saber used by none other than Luke Skywalker – a large plastic cylinder with a retractable green tube. Unfortunately, the green tube kept inappropriately extending because the button was broken. My son had previously used the saber as a hammer on the floor. I could not help but notice that the subtle balance accorded by his choice of accessories night have actually been
an intentional decision on his part. A demonstration of the higher forms of decision making or Free Will. His choice of the light saber’s position so perfectly accentuated the yellow socks - drawing the gaze gently up from the blue tennis shoes he was wearing and through the striped trousers, right into the hot red shirt with angel wings printed on the back – which was added to by the decision to wear a sleeveless waist coat adorned to look as though he had reincarnated a whole lamb on his shoulder. He looked the part, whatever that part might be.

In accordance with school rules, my wife and I had to ask him to remove the badge and light saber before he entered. In hindsight, though, we might have done him a disservice by doing so. He might have anticipated, in his advanced form of decision-making intuition, some trouble later with his outfit that required him to be well armed with a self-defensive weapon in preparation for those he would encounter unexpectedly who did not agree with his fashion sense. Heck, he had gone all out with this technicolour dream coat. He had singularly broken all fashion taboos, especially where we live. Girls systematically were to wear pink and boys were seemingly encouraged to wear anything that symbolized boyishness. My son smashed that preconceived notion with one motion…. he clearly fell outside the bounds of normal association. In my school days I remember seeing boys being singled out for far less. Thankfully, many of the kids in his school were so busy with their own immediate psyches that they would hardly notice the harlequin in their midst. My son would not have looked out of place among the crazy fashions demonstrated by some young people in the Harajuku area of Tokyo, or perhaps Carnaby Street in London during some previous decade. In the middle of farm land, this took some nerve.

We live in a fairly small town – and anyone with experience in such things knows that outlandish fashion sense is…. well….. usually confined to dressing rooms at the nearby charity shop. History shows us that society does not always take well to things that are not commonplace. Perhaps, his earliest foray was timely, he could conceivably get away with it!

So, little did he anticipate the gravity of his new decision making capabilities. And, I’m not the kind of father who wills on my son the kind of restrictive uniform associated with an assumed sense of manliness. So, I applauded his ability, whether planned or not, to just plain buck the trend. It would only be a matter of time when a decision such as his, made on a particular day, would be made with a lot more circumspection. I’m sure of it.

My son, dressed like some eccentric character, made sense to me…. And certainly, somewhere in his young and entertained mind, he made sense to himself. That is all my wife and I ask in this case. I even got caught up in the mood of things that day, inspired by his decision and his direction. I put on a green striped shirt instead of a white one – wore my seersucker trousers – no socks even! And I put on a risky pair of bohemian shoes. I turned the music up in my car just that much more…. Sang out loud in my awful flat tone …. I just didn’t care. I was going crazy. Or, I was going as crazy as a man my age could go. And I started to laugh. I hadn’t laughed like that…… with such abandon….. well…. Since I was a young kid. I made my way to the lumber yard in town. Why not go straight for the deep end. It wasn't going to be pretty, but who cared?

Our harmless experiment in free will did work afterall – both ways. We taught him…. And he taught us. Such is the joy of a free world – the freedom to make up your own mind! To just be yourself. Anyway, his teachers at school soon became used to it. And as soon as he arrived home again that day – on went the badge and light saber. Long live liberty! The birth of Free Will.